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Once the site of an important royal capital, this town in northeastern central Sri Lankablossomed into a medium-sized city due to its location along the most important land transport route between Colombo and Batticaloa, and more famously because of its ancient city site, well preserved as a historical park. The fact that it’s conveniently close to several national parks also draws a number of visitors.

The monuments are arranged in a reasonably compact garden setting and their development is easier to follow. All in all, you’ll probably find Polonnaruwa the easier of the two ancient capitals to appreciate. It is best to explore by bicycle, which you can rent from several places in town.


One of the country´s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One amazing lake.


One of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Polonnaruwa was once a sprawling fortified city and the second seat of Sri Lanka’s royal dynasty. Construction of the 1,200-square-mile capital began around 1055; it was occupied until the late thirteenth century, when the capital moved again. 

The city’s showstopper is the 6,400-acre man-made irrigation lake that provided water for many of the surrounding farms. Here as elsewhere on the property, you’ll marvel at the sophistication of the engineering, which endures even a thousand years on—note those neatly bricked levies. 

Near you will find Gal Vihara, a 90-foot-long stretch of stone from which four Buddhas have been carved: two in lotus position, one in repose, and one in a standing position.


Polonnaruwa is on the ColomboBatticaloa railway line, and is about 30km southeast of Gal Oya, where the line splits from the ColomboTrincomalee line. The train station is at Kaduruwela, near the bus station, and in fact the sign over the station entrance reads Kaduruwela Railway Station.

Polonnaruwa’s main bus station is actually in Kaduruwela, a few kilometres east of the old town on Batticaloa Rd. Buses to and from the west pass through the old-town centre, but if you’re leaving Polonnaruwa and want to make sure of a seat, it’s best to start off at Kaduruwela.

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